NEW YORK (Dec. 27) - U.S. retailers were still dripping with Yuletide cheer Sunday as deep-pocketed shoppers crammed malls to extend a holiday gift-buying season that has already exceeded expectations.
''It's just jingle all the way,'' said William Ford, senior economic advisor to TeleCheck Services Inc., a provider of checking services to retailers.
''If it's like the rest of the season, it probably will be the record year of the 1990s. It's just a perfect Christmas for retailers,'' he added.
Ford said he expects same-store sales for the Christmas season, which he defined as the 29 days after Thanksgiving, to rise about 6 percent above the same period a year ago. Add another 1 percent for sales from stores that didn't exist last year and about 1.5 percent from retail sales over the Internet and total holiday season sales may increase by over 8 percent.
''This has been a truly remarkable story for the retail industry,'' said Scott Krugman, spokesman for the National Retail Federation, an organization representing the full gamut of retailers from department stores, to online retailers, to mom-and-pop stores.
The federation expects the U.S. Department of Commerce to release figures next month showing that Americans spent about $184 billion during the November-December holiday season, about a 6.5-percent increase from 1998, Krugman said.
''I can't wait to see the final numbers,'' he said.
The biggest reason for a season that may make retailers giddy is the economy -- low inflation, low unemployment, and strong consumer confidence.
The season accounts for about 25 percent of annual retail sales, and even more for some smaller stores.
Shoppers Sunday couldn't wait to get past the doors and spend the gift certificates they received for Christmas, or grab on-sale merchandise.
At Woodfield Mall, in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, Ill., more than 1,000 people went online the traditional way and cued up outside Marshall Field's for the department store's 6:30 a.m. opening.
Crate & Barrel at the same mall was forced to limit the amount of people in the store when the check-out line reached 150, said Karen Mac Donald, spokeswoman for Taubman Centers Inc., owner and operator of 28 shopping centers in 12 states.
Listening to CNBC I have heard them talk all day about the robust retail season. Stated average sells expected to be up 8%+. Interviewed analyst about specialty retail stores. Summed it up saying retails taking a bashing now, but should come on strong in the 1st half of 2000.